Festivals around the world have always had ‘zero-tolerance’ drug policies in place, but have they now changed their tune?
Electronic dance music is the sound of the millennials. Many DJs hold precious anthems for all twenty something year olds and they will travel far and wide to festival environments to experience the live music and soak up the atmosphere. But it is also the genre of music which promotes drug use the most. This year, the iconic Swedish DJ, Tim Berling, better known by his stage name Avicii, had reportedly committed suicide. Before his tragic death the EDM producer had made a documentary about his ill health, caused by substance abuse. Tim was a pioneer of the EDM movement. When he stepped away from music and touring in 2016 he stated “EDM still has a lot of life in it”. But can this movement, which is full of life, be causing death?
Many festivals today attract people for the “experience” rather than the artists themselves, and for some of these revellers they want to magnify the experience as much as they can. Ecstasy can be their new best friend. With festivals getting bigger every year and drugs deaths in the U.K in 2017 at an all time high, festivals and police appear to be fighting a losing battle.
For 32-year old reveller Danny, going to festivals has nothing to do with the line-up.
“Pretty much the whole experience is now based around the different drugs we take depending on what our plans are each day, what type of music we are listening to, or what’s happening the next day. We try to plan the drugs around the event. They help enhance the experience depending on what drug you take. I usually take ecstasy and ketamine to all festivals. But things like 2CB enhance colours and sounds around you helping you get the most out of a festival environment.”
Festivals around the U.K have a “zero-tolerance drug policy”. Before entering the grounds of a festival there are bag searches and pat downs conducted. But this does not phase Danny.
“It is pretty easy. I just tuck it between my clothes and have never been searched properly. (Sniffer) Dogs don’t do much either.”
With that, should police waste their time working at festivals? A police report of Creamfields 2017 which was titled “a huge success” saw 153 arrests, with 132 of them drug supply offences. But out of the 70,000 who attend over the four days, this is less than 0.2% of the people who attend.
“Pretty much the whole experience is now based around the different drugs we take”
Chief Inspector Katy Woolford who works for Sussex and Surrey police is in charge of planning and resourcing the policing response at festivals and works closely with organisers to make sure people are safe. She does not feel that legalising drugs to improve people’s safety is the answer.
“It’s a tricky and controversial subject.
“I don’t think legalising drugs would make people safer as the dark net has swamped the market. If you legalise soft drugs it will not stop people from still taking hard drugs.”
Chief Inspector Woolford has worked at Wildlife festival and the biggest event in Brighton, Pride festival. She said it is a difficult job.
“Pride has become a weekend in Brighton where people consume a lot of drugs and alcohol. Hospital admissions from people being unwell in relation to drugs is very very high.
“Even though we put a lot of drug dogs into operation, a lot of people will still take drugs. We also do a lot of media campaigns leading up to events just to try to deter people from taking drugs, but I think there is the acceptance that people go to these events to consume drugs.”
Acceptance? Is this the solution? This is what Senior Harm Reduction worker Chris Brady thinks. Chris works for non-profit community interest company The Loop. The company began in 2013, offering drug awareness and training to club staff and have since expanded to festivals and offer drug testing facilities. People can anonymously approach The Loop, hand in their drugs for testing, and return a couple of hours later for verification and a short discussion with health professionals giving advice on taking the substance.
“The demand for us is growing,” says Chris. “Last year we worked at three festivals and we are in negotiations with a number of festivals for this year. My personal belief is that we should be at every festivals, whether it is The Loop or somebody else. But I do think the more we do the more people will see the benefits of it.”
Their services have uncovered a number of drugs which have been handed in for testing and have dangerous contaminants.
“Over the last two years we have seen an increase in a substance called n-ethylpentylone which is sold as MDMA and it is a very different drug to MDMA. You feel similar at the very start but it is much more stimulant and will keep people awake for a good few nights and with that constant stimulation of the brain and with that lack of sleep, it has led to people suffering psychotic episodes and in extreme circumstances they are hospitalised. However, MDMA is a drug that does cause problems and deaths even when it’s pure MDMA.”
Other contaminants Chris has said he found include concrete, malaria tablets and denture cleaning tablets, just to name a few. But one of the biggest concerns for Chris now is the high dosage of drugs being sold.
“People should know about the strength of the drug they are taking. They are bringing Ecstasy in which is stronger than it needs to be. It’s dangerously strong. We have had some pills that are over 200mg or 300mg of MDMA, and an average size male maybe needs 100mg to get the right dose, and some that are being sold are three times that strength. If you take too much of it you’re putting yourself at risk.”
So far there has been no conclusive results on how effective it is having private companies such as The Loop at festivals. But if authorities cannot stop drugs being consumed, educating people on the substances they put in their bodies appears to next best step in order to reduce drug-related fatalities.